Grid Modernization

Our own flavor of smart

It has been more than a decade since the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 brought a concrete policy direction — and dedicated funding — for smart grid technologies to the electric utility industry. The act, plus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, led to more than $5 billion in investments into everything from smart meters to storage systems and grid monitoring devices. 

A lot else has happened in the past 10 years. Communities nationwide are exploring how to become smart cities. Industry players have begun to lump energy efficiency and demand response under the umbrella of “smart energy use.” And your customers use smartphones and smart devices in their homes every day.

Smart is what today’s customers seem to crave. Yet one almost wonders if “smart” terminology is being overused or if it has become diluted by being a catch-all.

Surveys show that people want to live in smart cities, but there is no single definition for what makes a city “smart.” Many of you, our members, talk about smart grid technologies and offering new services for customers with smart homes. However, no two initiatives are identical in the technology or approach used.

We focused this issue of Public Power Magazine to cut through all the noise on what is “smart” and offer the public power perspective.

Increased connectivity, information, and efficiencies seem to be a common theme when we look at smart initiatives in public power. As is evident in the articles throughout this issue, it is not just about knowing more, but about doing more with what we now know.

In the true spirit of public power, many of the people who contributed to this issue note that we should not get hung up over needing one industry definition of a smart city, utility, or home. Instead, we should each focus on what our communities want and become our own flavor of smart. 

As we look ahead to the next decade, our priority should be to keep our eyes and ears open to the obstacles and opportunities for our communities. We can do this not only by providing the electricity that powers the technologies of the future, but also by serving as pioneers — leading our communities to rethink how we live, work, and connect.

The examples of innovative public power work highlighted here are far from exhaustive. We at the American Public Power Association know many of you are making strides to push and prepare our industry for the future. That’s why I invite you to take part in two activities with us. First, engage with us in Public Power Forward, a strategic initiative to help prepare public power for a new era in electricity. To join in the discussion of how you are handling new technologies or changing the way you do business, subscribe to the Public Power Forward listserv.  

Second, get active in DEED — Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments — public power’s research and development program. If your utility is not yet a member of DEED, I encourage you to join — you’ll contribute to advancing public power and learn from the innovations of other public power utilities. And if you’re already a DEED member, don’t be afraid to dip your toe into the water by submitting a grant application for a project you’ve been considering. No project is too small, and what you learn just might prove to be a jumping off point for a new smart program or service.

So, if being smart is about sharing and applying our collective knowledge, then public power is ideally positioned to go to the head of the class.